Man pleads guilty in hitting, killing army surgeon

By: Kristi Ludlow Email
By: Kristi Ludlow Email

News 12 at 6 o'clock / Monday, Oct. 17, 2011

AIKEN, S.C. -- The man accused of hitting and killing army surgeon Dr. Matthew Burke pleaded guilty Monday.

Daniel Johnson pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter after a long day in court for both sides. News 12 spent the day at the courtroom.

The question of the day was if Johnson would plead guilty.

"He desires another attorney to represent him other than myself, I could tell the court there is a difference in perspective between Mr. Johnson and I on this case," said Johnson's attorney James Huff.

And on top of that, Johnson's lawyer requested Judge Jack Early postpone the trial, something he would not do.

"It has been called, it has been on the trial docket docket, family has flown in from out of town," explained Judge Early.

But Johnson's attorney said he wasn't prepared for a trial this week.

"Once we began trying to resolve this case, I put all of my efforts into resolving this case than preparing for trial," Huff said.

Ultimately, Judge Early said no.

"I am respectfully denying a motion for continuance," said Judge Early.

That's mean the trial would continue this week. And Johnson missed his chance for a plea deal.

"That plea agreement is now being withdrawn, we will go to trial on the offense of reckless homicide, said Judge Early.

And Judge Early wanted Johnson to know he could be facing a lot more time behind bars.

"That carries a maximum of 10 years in the state Deptartment of Corrections where involuntary manslaughter only carries zero to five," Early said.

But then, of course, everything changed. After all this, Johnson said he wanted a plea deal after all so he and his attorney struck a deal.

There will be a sentencing hearing Tuesday morning.

If the judge accepts this plea, Johnson will spend five years in jail with 5 years probation.

Burke's family issued this statement:
"Today's felony conviction establishes the criminal responsibility of Daniel Johnson for the senseless death of Matthew P. Burke. Dr. Burke was riding legally in a group of 15 cyclists when he and other four riders were struck from behind by Mr. Johnson on a long, straight and flat stretch of road in broad daylight."

They'll be able to speak in court tomorrow.

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